Fresh from our talk with Warhammer remembrancer Dan Abnett on the unsolved mysteries of the Warhammer universe, we now turn our attention to a science fiction property with a bit less grimdark: the one where a polymath with an eidetic memory invents time travel and things go, as they say, a little kaka. Grab your handlinks and step into the imaging chamber because it’s time to talk about Quantum Leap.
We were lucky enough to snag some time with legendary TV producer Donald P. Bellisario, whose name has graced the closing credits of some of the most influential and popular TV shows of the ’80s and ’90s—including Airwolf, Magnum, P.I., and of course Quantum Leap. Though he’s now retired, Bellisario gamely agreed to allow an Ars film crew—with props!—into his California home to badger him with occasionally obscure questions about what is easily the best time-travel show ever to grace television.
This was a special episode to film, if for no other reason than that Quantum Leap was a special show. Today it feels like a relic from another age—an age in which story serialization was the exception rather than the rule, where twenty-two episodes per season represented the expected minimum, and where commercial breaks were a bit less frequent. (The first-season episodes of Quantum Leap clock in at almost forty-eight minutes—that’s about six minutes longer than most hour-long dramas on network TV today!) Quantum Leap’s 97 episodes originally aired from 1989 to 1993, and the show was a huge part of my junior high and early high school experience—though the parts of the show I wanted to see most were those rare glimpses into “the future,” the show’s infrequently glimpsed vision of 1999 where Project Quantum Leap was taking place.
And what a future it was—a future of neon and blinking lights, of cool blue lightning arcing across colored plastic, of ’90s retro-future fashion sense run amok, all overseen by an intelligent and somewhat snippy artificial intelligence named Ziggy. The time travel stories of the week were cool, but the overarching narrative about Project Quantum Leap is what really hooked me—would Sam ever return home?
Though there have been rumors floating around for years about a Quantum Leap reboot, I want to temper expectations a bit: Don had a lot of neat stuff to tell us, but one thing you will not find in this interview is any discussion of whether or not Quantum Leap will be coming back. It is Don’s firm belief that Sam is still out there leaping—and Sam has somehow made the conscious choice to continue doing it. It is, as Don puts it, Sam’s life’s work.
So the heartbreaking ending of the series finale still stands: Sam Beckett never makes it back to his retro-neon 1999 home, and he’s still out there somewhere, working with Al, striving to put right what once went wrong.
I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to do at least one more episode of “Unsolved Mysteries” with Don—Airwolf, anyone? Stay tuned!